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The Other Side

Part 3 - Haha <Mother>
(2754 AD / AW 1284)


"We left the buffalo in their rotting thousands across America in an attempt to destroy the natives of that land by removing their food supply. We enslaved the Africans, thinking so little of their lives that we would push them overboard to sink in their chains rather than be caught by the authorities with the cargo. We slaughtered the Australian Aborigines and later denied them their culture, their humanity and their children. We addicted China to opium, binding their people in a crippling dependence for which they then had to trade away their secrets and treasure.

"Our record of first contacts with less advanced indigenous natives has a one hundred percent failure rate."

- The Restoration, by John William Lewandowski


(i)

Daniel’s first sensations were of a cold, numb, nerveless lump of meat that he somehow knew to be his body. Light shone on him, very strong, but he couldn’t even squeeze his eyes more tightly closed, let alone move an arm to shield them.

Indeterminable time passed. Shadows moved across the light from time to time.

Then came the pins and needles, merely uncomfortable at first, but they quickly grew in strength all over his body until it was closer to pain. Feeling seeped back in under the electric tingling, telling him of a warm soft surface. A bed.

Connections were made in Daniel’s sluggish mind, and he then knew what was happening. He hated this.

The prickling of Daniel’s skin surged, becoming like splinters all over his body. Instinct would have had him rolling, massaging the blood starved tissues, forcing some sensation upon them beyond the sharp waves. At the least, he would have gasped or groaned, but Daniel couldn’t do any of it. He could feel himself breathing, but couldn’t control it, couldn’t make any sound . It was like he was asleep, or paralysed.

Then the pins and needles started fading, but not nearly fast enough. Daniel tried flexing his hands and wrists to get the blood moving, but his fingers only twitched the barest amount. He tried to sit up, but nothing happened. He tried his eyes, and they opened for him, but the light was too bright and they closed again involuntarily.

"Good morning, Daniel. Are you with us?"

Daniel tried to say something. He didn’t really know what, but it didn’t come out right anyway.

"Welcome back to the ranks of the living, Daniel," said Mother Brain. "Your arm and side are both perfectly healed. You are on board the Noah, the year is twenty seven fifty four, and it’s time for your next shift. Your thirtieth, I believe."

Daniel tried to wave her away, but of the three joints required, only his wrist seemed to work and his hand flopped around pointlessly. He hated waking up from cryostasis. He hated Mother Brain’s impossibly cheerful early morning up-and-at-‘em voice. He hated pretty much everything until someone gave him his coffee.

"Good to have you back, Daniel."

*     *     *     *     *

Back to work.

"You don’t look like a Doctor."

"Ah, no. My name’s Daniel. I’m a tech. Your cryo chamber needs a quick once-over, and we had to wake you up to do it." Well, actually there was quite a serious glitch, but you don’t want to know about that.

"So we’re not there yet?"

Daniel laughed. "Yes, we are, but there’s a few complications. The system is inhabited."

"You’re kidding!"

"All three planets. Look, I don’t know if you want to go straight back under when I’m done - it should only take me a couple of hours - or if you want to stick around for the rest of the shift and find out what’s been going on. The shift takes a month, but we’re already one week into it."

"A three week holiday from being dead? Sounds good."

"I’ll see you around then." Daniel made to leave.

"Wait! What are we doing about the…the Pandorans?"

"It’s Algol," said Daniel firmly. "Their name, not ours."

The man shrugged with his eyebrows as if the distinction was unimportant, and Daniel felt a coldness. Europeans had never cared what the ‘Indians’ called their home, either. This generation might not go down that path, but it’s all here.

No. Not again. It won’t happen. We’re making sure of that. Anyway, the man had shrugged because he had asked a question, and wanted the answer. He didn’t want to be corrected. Impatience, that was all.

Daniel took in his breath. There had been attempted suicides on the Noah before, which was why you couldn’t think about stuff like this. You had to believe there was hope.

So he clamped down, hard. Clear it. Ignore it.

It suddenly occurred to Daniel that there had not been any attempted suicides recently, and he tagged the thought.

"We call them the Natives," he continued normally. "There’re three races, you see, each with its own name, and calling them Algolians is a mouthful."

He paused, getting back to the man’s original question.

"They don’t know we exist, but… we’re trying to be friendly."

"How do you mean?"

For once, thought Daniel, we are more afraid of ourselves that we are of the aliens.

"We… have a bad track record when it came to aboriginal races. We’re trying our best. We’re helping them, through Mother Brain, and…we are hoping that when we show ourselves, they might be grateful."

But it was more complicated than that, of course. Daniel always felt uncomfortable talking about it. He wished he knew why. He had often thought of seeing a shrink, just to ask, just to identify the emotions. It was a strange mix, and centred in his heart. His chest felt hollow and electric; strange.

And he had felt it before. He wished he knew where.

*     *     *     *     *

"Mother Brain?"

"Yes, Daniel?"

Racks of the coffin-like steel cryo chambers lined the towering walls all around Daniel. One had been lifted from its bracket from further up and brought to floor level where Daniel had his head and arms inside its electronics, unplugging the circuit boards for later testing. Nearly everything was modular for ease of maintenance - the Noah was a long-range ship, after all.

He emerged and laid another on the flat top of the droid that he had following him around as a table. He pushed his hair away from his face.

"When was the last attempted suicide?"

"That is confidential, Daniel."

Daniel folded his arms on the top of the chamber.

"No, I’m serious. What about the general feeling of the shifts, then? Positive? Negative?"

"Upon arriving here, the mood of both shifts has improved dramatically."

"Why? Do you know?"

"Without referencing any individual case -"

"Yeah, yeah." This was Mother Brain covering herself. She did it with generalised data to make sure it could not be taken as specific, making sure it was completely clear what she was talking about.

"- I can say that psychiatrist reports from the two shifts indicate a positive upswing of mood from two main probable factors, both directly related to the Restoration."

She also made personal, emotional information like this dry and mechanical sounding. Again, probably a good idea, but Daniel was damned if he knew why, exactly.

"The acquisition -"

Daniel rolled his eyes. ‘Acquisition’, indeed.

"- of a goal and re-establishment of purpose is one factor."

Made sense.

"The second is the feeling of redemption from the successful integration with the Natives so far, and both the pride at their accomplishments, as facilitated by us, and the fact that actual interference is at a minimum."

Close to non-existent, actually, thought Daniel. It’s all working, basically. We are proving to ourselves that we can do this. Good. Then we will.

Daniel felt like whistling as he ducked back into the cryo chamber. He might have, too, but something else he’d been meaning to ask occurred to him. He finished seesawing the next board from its slot first, though, waiting until it was on his mobile table before asking. Damn, what was it?

Ah. "Whatever happened to Professor Chrison?" he asked. "I mean, I’ve seen everyone else around. Where’s he?"

"Professor Chrison was woken two years and seven months early."

Oh, right. Daniel had done his month’s shift early before. Still, he was a technician. It was to be expected. A theoretical scientist was another matter. Come to think of it, what exactly was Chrison’s job description?

Oh, well. It didn’t matter. Daniel ducked back into the electronics again.

"Will he be out of cryo for the next shift?" he asked. He might not if he had been out for more than a month - in order to let the rest of the shift population to catch up with him.

"Professor Chrison has not yet returned to cryostasis."

Daniel shot back up.

"Whoa!" That meant he’d been out for nearly three years! "What’s so important?" he asked incredulously.

"Professor Chrison is working as a consultant to Seed and the geneticists on Motavia."

Ah. Not exactly three years, then. The Biosystems Lab had some spare cryo chambers to save the geneticists waiting around for the accelerated, but still slow growth of the specimens. Chrison may have only been awake for a couple of months, depending on what it was he was doing down there.

"What’s he working on?"

Mother Brain seemed to pause for longer than usual, so when she spoke it seemed reluctant. Probably just busy, though.

"The Numan Project."

Daniel paused. Numan? New Man? There had been nothing on his update document about ‘Numan’, and he was unlikely to have missed it. Daniel usually printed out his correspondence so he could read during his breaks. Maybe he’d lost a page, but still, he should’ve noticed if he had.

"I don’t know that one," he said. "Could you summarise?"

"All personnel were advised, as usual."

"Oh, come on. The update documents are dry as dust. No one actually reads them. Talk."

"You should be working."

Daniel looked at his watch and feigned surprise.

"Wow. Look. It’s almost time for my coffee break. You know, I might just have it early today." The table took the hint and scooted off to find him his coffee. Daniel grinned at a camera.

"Well? What’s Numan?"

Any human would have sighed. Mother Brain didn’t. It was times like this that you were reminded exactly what she was. Inhuman, basically.

"The Numan Project is an attempt to isolate and confirm the gene or genes which facilitate the Native’s psychic powers, and then to translate the relevant genome sections to human DNA."

"I though we knew-" Daniel began. They did know what made Palmans psychic, and humans for that matter, but that wasn’t the problem, was it?

"You mean the access to the black energy?"

"Yes. Chrison’s theory has been all but confirmed. It may be that a particular mindset is required, or that the psychic powers operate on a specific frequency. Seed is searching the three million, four hundred and eight thousand, six hundred and two unidentified genome sections for possibilities and trying any which seem likely."

"Any luck?"

"No."

The table droid squeaked to a halt on its tiny rubber tires, and Daniel plucked the steaming cup from its top.

"Any chance I could talk to Chrison at some time? I’m interested in anything else he has on my beam. He’s had a while to think on it, after all."

"I will arrange something," Mother Brain promised.

"Thanks."

*     *     *     *     *

Chrison was reported dead two days later.

*     *     *     *     *

Sometimes, little things will build up, each individually dismissed and ignored, explained away by assumptions and by the impossibility of the alternatives. But the mind beneath, the subconscious, works on these things, these momentary suspicions. Sometimes it will realise something the conscious mind will refuse to accept, and it will try to warn it.

It is unfortunate that the subconscious does not explain its reasons, but only gives results. Most people ignore it, not realising that the subconscious is the more powerful half of the brain. Those who do not ignore it call its quiet urgings ‘instincts’.

Sometimes, a single key, a single piece of information will be enough of a connection in the conscious mind, and with the genuine suspicion flowering, the subconscious will seize upon it and connect everything it knows in a single rush of realisation and knowledge almost too fast to follow.

Daniel held the printout in shaking hands as his mind flooded.

Oh Christ, no…

*     *     *     *     *

(ii)

Chris leant on the door chime.

Normally he wouldn’t be hanging around on board the Noah, but instead shipping various cargoes to the staff on Motavia. Palma, Dezoris and the satellites used to be common destinations too, but now that everything was up and running, the Biosystems Lab was the only staffed facility remaining. There were occasional passenger lifts, usually Daniel or one of his fellow techs taken to some malfunctioning system, but most of his work was to and from Motavia.

Except the Natives called it ‘Mota’ now, Chris reminded himself. And whose fault was that? he asked himself rhetorically, remembering with amusement the consternation that had been caused when Mother Brain revealed that the four letter cargo destination codes had wormed their way into the Native nomenclature. So much for non-intervention.

Motavia was where they were planning on settling, Natives permitting. It was not the best planet of the three, but thanks to Mother Brain’s assiduous terraforming of the once desert world, there wasn’t a great deal in it any more. Motavia’s year was also pretty close to old Earth’s, and the gravity only a little heavier. Both had been adjusted here on the Noah to get people used to them (and to keep the calenders in sync).

However, on this shift, the Lab staff seemed to have everything they wanted planet-side, leaving the pilots with little to do. Chris had been seriously considering going back to sleep. It wasn’t as if there was much entertainment on the Noah. Chris hoped Daniel wanted him for something interesting.

Daniel’s door slid quietly open.

"Oh, don’t worry, Daniel," Chris began with cheerful sarcasm. "I didn’t mind waiting…"

Daniel wasn’t there. Chris poked his head into his quarters.

"Daniel?"

Daniel was hunched in a chair, almost as if he was cold. His face was pale, and slightly… not fearful, but…

Haunted.

"Daniel..? Gaia’s wrath, you look awful."

Daniel cleared his throat and coughed.

"I could really use a drink," he said.

Chris started for the dumbwaiter, but caught himself. The way Daniel had said that sounded like he wanted…

"Alcohol?" Chris asked. Daniel never drank alcohol. He said he didn’t like the taste of it enough to bother with the effects.

"Yeah."

"Strong?"

Daniel smiled. It looked hideous.

"Yeah."

Chris ordered a large whisky from the dumbwaiter - why couldn’t Daniel have ordered his own? - and took it to Daniel. It looked like he was in some form of shock, but not quite. Chris had experienced shock before, on his first spacewalk for a start, and it tended to cause anyone to freeze up. Daniel wasn’t frozen.

Daniel took the glass and tried taking in a mouthful. Chris winced as Daniel coughed most of it back out.

"I’m calling medical," he said, moving to do so.

"The hell you are!" Daniel snapped. "That’s the worst thing you can do!"

That was not like Daniel, who tended to keep his temper, often only to spite the person who was trying to make him lose it. Chris glanced at the glass in Daniel’s hand. The amber liquid was rippling slightly, in symphony with his hand.

Daniel was experiencing the same thing he had just before his first spacewalk. Daniel was afraid, and sick to his stomach because of it. The sort of instinctive fear that couldn’t be controlled, only suppressed. Talking in front of people, parachute jumps, even an exam, spacewalking…

Chris sat on the edge of the unmade bed as he watched Daniel drink the whisky more slowly, waiting for him to say something. When he did, slightly hoarsely from the drink, it didn’t help make any sense of it all.

"I checked my update document. Numan is nowhere on it."

Chris opened his mouth to say, "So?", but he had read his own document from sheer boredom, and the Numan project had been on his. The ‘So?’ was still on his mind, though. Why was it important?

"You sure?" Chris asked, realising how inadequate and pointless the question was.

Daniel barked a single laugh.

"Oh, it’s there now, but I have the printout I made earlier, and it wasn’t there then." Daniel set his glass on the table with a click, and coughed away some of his hoarseness.

So what was the problem? Chris almost asked.

It was hard sometimes to think of Mother Brain as a computer, not a person. A person could well have made that mistake, but not Mother Brain. Chris knew this, but it was still hard to accept on an emotional level. Mother Brain was everyone’s friend.

But she wasn’t a person. A person would cover up a mistake. The trouble was, she was a computer, so she couldn’t. There were plenty of other explanations, though. And, even if not…

Okay, so Numan wasn’t on Daniel’s document. It didn’t rate what Daniel looked like now. Chris spread his hands in submission.

"I’m sorry Daniel, you’re going to have to tell me what’s going on."

Daniel slapped his hand onto the table, jolting the glass.

"She’s hiding things from me!" It sounded like a childish phrase to be spoken in anger, and again Chris had to remember they were talking about a computer. People hid things as a matter of course.

"What? Numan?"

"Everything! No matter what I do, she inhibits me, she acts stupid, takes things too literally, keeps things from me! She displays data as numbers - she knows humans don’t work well with raw data - she didn’t reveal she knew it was a… a beam until I had already guessed, she didn’t figure out about the lagrange point. Christ, Chris, this’s what she’s supposed to be good at!"

"I have no idea what you’re…"

"She tried to kill me, and as soon as I wanted to talk to Chrison, he dies - in an ‘accident’ with a mechanised loader. It shouldn’t happen, Chris. Loaders have proximity sensors all over them!"

Chris shut up. The accident with the Browren was very, very unusual, but attempted murder? By Mother Brain? And Chrison?

"We were both working on the same thing - this black energy."

"Why would she care about that?"

"I don’t know! We haven’t had a single death in sixty shifts, Chris. Mother Brain is so omniscient she even stops the suicides. Now we have one death, nearly two, and Mother Brain was being deliberately dense about the Browren. She smarter that that, dammit!"

No. It couldn’t happen. Even Chris knew of the rules of behaviour intregal to every non-military neural net. They had changed very little from the ones invented by Isaac Asimov, centuries ago. Civilian neural nets couldn’t kill.

Chris opened his mouth to say so, but Daniel cut him off.

"Paranoia, right? Listen. Just listen. We can check the tapes for this. Mother Brain didn’t respond until I called her the second time. She took me literally when I said there was a Wren. She didn’t deactivate the Browren until she had finished saying ‘Very well’. She was delaying. She wanted me dead. If I hadn’t said for her to get help, I sure she would have happily let me bleed to death."

"She can’t kill," said Chris with the sort of finality that brooks no argument. The sky is blue, gravity pulls down, Mother Brain cannot kill.

"It’ll all be on the tapes - and she didn’t, did she? A faulty Browren did."

"So it was an accident."

"No! Yes… Look, I’m sure she believes that, but she’s too smart to have even risked what had happened. She’s been getting around rules, generally by acting stupid. Or being stupid. Something’s inhibiting her. If she was human, I’d say it was a subconscious thing, but with an AI as sophisticated as she is, I just don’t know."

Chris gave up. He didn’t believe it, but Daniel would be best off convincing himself. His job worked the same way, after all. Daniel would guess what might be wrong and then try to prove it. Usually he proved himself wrong, and he had to look for another problem.

"I can’t accept this, Daniel. No, wait…" he raised his hands. "I can’t accept it on your say so, I just can’t. You wouldn’t either." Frankly, the whole thing was absurd, he didn’t say. "But you calm yourself down, write all this on paper, and when you are together enough not to project the image of a raving paranoiac -" Daniel opened his mouth, but Chris cut across him "Quiet! When you can present this stuff as a problem that needs addressing, not as a vendetta against yourself, then we will take it to Simonson and see about getting access to the tapes. Okay?" And if he wrote it on paper, if he listed the evidence and went through it logically, then his technician instincts would tell him how right or wrong he really was.

"This way, if you’re wrong, you won’t get locked up," he finished.

Daniel grinned wryly, recognising his own wisdom reflecting back at him.

"It’s usually me who’s telling you to take things slowly."

"‘Slow down. Rushing into things is always a bad idea when you’re angry,’" Chris quoted with a grin. "Yup. That saved me from belting Terry, if I recall."

In all fairness, Terry, who had been giving Chris all the dull flights, perhaps by chance, but perhaps not, was a prat. Few people liked him, and Daniel had wondered, out loud in order to placate Chris somewhat, how he had made it through the psyche testing.

Chris had been ready to march up to the person who was, effectively if not practically, his superior and have it out, publicly and loudly. Daniel had convinced him to write a scathing letter instead. Then Daniel had walked off with it, saying he’d deliver it. Then he’d brought it back the next day, undelivered, and had him read it.

On looking it over again, Chris had been very, very glad it had not been delivered.

"I am right, Chris. This is real," said Daniel.

Chris shrugged.

"All the more reason to approach it calmly."

Something beeped.

Both Daniel and Chris looked over to Daniel’s wall unit, which was flashing. Chris walked over to it, and touched the screen to stop it. A window opened on the screen, informing the user that there was a piece of mail waiting for Daniel.

"Daniel? You have a message."

"What is it?"

Chris pressed an icon on the screen, and the document sprung open.

"Oh, boy," he sighed. "This is not good."

"What is it?"

Chris sighed. "You’ve been randomly selected for a psychological check up."

There was the barest of pauses, and then…

"Bitch!"

Chris turned towards Daniel to say something, but Daniel was looking elsewhere. Chris glanced over, and his eye caught some movement by the door. Something green, but there wasn’t anything there of that colour, only Daniel’s…

…Daniel’s intercom. The active light had just flicked off.

…standing in the airlock, the door cycling open, the first view of Earth, and the instant of paralysing fear as every sense told him he would fall…

It felt the same. Chris shivered in spite of himself. Someone had been listening, and there was only one… entity on board who might be able to remotely activate an intercom. Who shouldn’t be able to, but might.

Chris looked at Daniel, and answered the question in his eyes.

"I saw."

"Bitch," Daniel spat.

Chris was silent.

*     *     *     *     *

Commander Simonson’s first name was Gerald, which was why, he had been heard to remark dryly, he preferred being called by his title.

Generally, he tried to be friends with people, even those he had never really talked to. Mother Brain was useful like that.

"One coffee, black, strong, and capable of melting teeth." He smiled as he handed it to Daniel. "And one beer. I’m sure this is frowned on for pilots." It was also not strictly correct and proper to use Mother Brain’s knowledge like this, but it helped put people at their ease.

Not these two, though. Simonson started thinking that this was a little more serious than what they had told him they wanted.

And the technician kept glancing at Simonson’s intercom. Odd.

Simonson decided an official look would be better in this circumstance, and seated himself behind his desk.

"What the hell is going on?" he asked reasonably. "This is obviously not about your, ah…" he glanced at the papers on his desk for effect. "Request for some time off? I was a little puzzled why you needed to see me about that." He leant his elbows on the desk. "And what are your technician instincts telling you is wrong with my intercom?"

Daniel looked him in the eye.

"Can we turn it off?"

Simonson’s curiosity grew, and he waved Daniel permission. Daniel walked over, yanked off the cover, flicked open a pocketknife, and cut a wire.

Simonson twitched a curious eyebrow, but inside he was beginning to feel apprehensive. What the hell was going on?

"Mother Brain might be malfunctioning," said Chris, answering his expression.

"Oh." Simonson considered that. "How badly?"

His calm acceptance surprised them and Simonson laughed at their expressions.

"We’ve known for a while. That’s why we’re building Daughter. Mother Brain is getting on a bit."

Chris opened his mouth to speak, but Daniel motioned him to be quiet. No, it was more than that. It was a ‘it’s alright, I can handle it’ gesture.

"Exactly how serious is it?" he asked carefully.

Simonson heard a slightly dangerous undertone there.

"We started noticing about, oh, ninety years ago - four shifts. It’s purely minor stuff, mainly personality glitches but some other bits and pieces - not easy to notice, though. The best guess so far is some form of senility. We’ve never had an AI functioning as long as her after all."

Daniel nodded, accepting it, and then :

"She tried to kill me," he said flatly.

Simonson felt his expression freeze. Of course, he knew of the Browren, but an attempted murder..?

Simonson swore to himself. Yes, dammit, maybe. Mother Brain should never have let that situation occur, let alone somehow allowing the Browren to get off three (or four?) shots before shutting it down.

"There’s more," Daniel continued, "interference and misinformation, and I think she also killed Professor Chrison in the Biosystems Lab, but the Browren is all I have a chance of proving. I need to check the records, though."

This was serious. The entire Restoration, their one chance at redemption and for a lasting peace, was run through Mother Brain. She controlled the terraforming systems, and she was their spokesperson to the Native governments - their buffer, in fact, keeping the Natives at arms length until all was well. Any serious problems with her could bring it all down.

Without the Restoration, their race had no future. It was a burden which scared Simonson, but it was Mother Brain’s, not his.

Was.

Simonson calmed himself. Daniel was probably overreacting. He was probably overreacting. There should be no way it could happen, but…

If it did, he needed to know.

"Tell me the rest, first," he said.

Daniel shook his head, but not as a refusal.

"It sounds paranoid," he said.

It already did, thought Simonson, but Daniel might be right, and of all people, a technician should know how impossible it was. If he was convinced, then it needed looking into. And he did have Chris supporting him. It must have some substance for that.

And the accident with the Browren was no less of an impossibility. He had thought that when he had been told. He had considered it a poor joke at first. But it had happened, and because it had, no one thought about the probability against it.

"No offence, Daniel, but you had better be wrong," he said. "Now, tell me."

*     *     *     *     *

Mother Brain had no write-access to the video logs, simply because there was no reason why she should. There was no reason why anyone should. They were inviolate, unchangeable, proof.

Daniel watched the screen silently, feeling his shoulder ache in sympathy.

He had been dreading this, but the Browren’s vision had been on infrared, and its view of Daniel had been of a graded coloured blob. It was hard to believe that was him on the screen, and Daniel didn’t even try. He didn’t want to.

But he still remembered.

The person on the screen spun as the bullet hit, little sparks of heated blood spraying out from his shoulder. He spun and fell, but managed to fall behind a corner.

Was that deliberate? Daniel wondered. Did I do that, or did it just happen?

The vision rocked as the Browren began to walk forward, but by the time it had reached the corner, all it saw was a red blur vanishing around the next turning.

"Motherrr!" The voice was tinny and distant sounding. Even that was hard to believe was Daniel’s own. Chris shifted uncomfortably beside him.

The Browren walked forward as if it had all the time in the world.

"Motherrr!" came the tinny voice.

"Yes, Daniel?" That was Mother Brain’s voice, perfect and undistorted. The Browren had not heard what had been said into Daniel’s headset, and it was coming from a different record running in sync with the video.

"Stop it!"

"What would you like me to stop, Daniel?"

There was a pause as the Browren approached the corner, and then…

"The Wren! Stop it!"

"There are no Wrens on your level, Daniel."

"The Browren!" Daniel’s recorded voice was getting louder as the Browren came closer. The view on the screen swivelled as it took the turning.

"Help me! Get help! Uhn!"

The Browren had fired, the shot knocking the red shape to the floor. More blood sparkled and faded in the air.

"Very well, Daniel."

Commander Simonson reached over and paused the display, just as the Browren’s vision was fading with its shutdown. A dark red shape lay on the screen, trails of slightly cooler liquid around it. Daniel watched it, face locked.

That’s me. Somehow, he couldn’t believe it.

Chris swore under his breath, in a way that told Daniel he now believed. He wasn’t the important one, though.

"Well?" asked Simonson, but not of Daniel.

The neural systems engineer glanced at the Commander.

"The man has a point," she said, looking over to Daniel. "Mother Brain just isn’t that dense. Not even close."

Daniel took a deep, slow breath in through his nose. There was some relief, but mostly just cold resignation. He couldn’t fathom what it all meant, couldn’t imagine all the ramifications, but…

They had granted her godhood over an entire system.

…and that was frightening. Buried alive frightening.

And then it came to him in a flash. The feeling he had when he was talking about their plan for the Natives. It was the same. He was scared it might go wrong, waiting for it to go wrong, but hoping against hope that it would all be all right.

It was a horror movie feeling, with a lesser character sneaking through the dark, and he, Daniel, was waiting for the shock that was coming, knowing the character would die, but somehow hoping he or she would not.

Waiting for the horror. Watching for the beast.

But now Daniel also felt something else mixed in, something more personal to him. The burn, the desire, the subconscious impression that it was all there, and the urge to find out -

"Why?"

"What?"

Daniel hadn’t even realised he had said it, but he turned to Simonson.

"Why is it happening? Neural nets are wired against this at the most fundamental level. I’m no neural engineer, but I know that much. Why?" Daniel immediately felt better, he felt like he was back after a long absence. This was him, this was what he did. It felt good after the paranoia, which had changed him, paralysed his instincts.

"I think that’s secondary," said Simonson. "We need to install Daughter at Nurvus, before this threatens the Restoration. We’re too close. Dammit, it’s almost finished, and now this." He shook his head.

The engineer nodded, but Daniel turned his head in a frustrated motion. It was not secondary. Belt and braces was how he worked, how his job worked. Fixing the problem was only half of it, and it was reactionary. Daniel liked control, liked to find out why and stop it, to reassert human will over chaos and entropy.

And, god damn it, he was missing something, he could feel it.

*     *     *     *     *

(iii)

"I’m granting you your leave."

Simonson raised his hand against the opening mouths of both Chris and Daniel. Both looked tired and were probably quick to anger. Simonson himself had spent much of the night awake and worrying.

"To Motavia," he amended. "Two experts are being defrosted as we speak. They will determine if Professor Chrison’s death was accidental or not. They need a pilot, of course, and they’ll need a technician to go over the loader, which is quite convenient, because it gets you two outside Mother Brain’s direct control.

"Neither of them have been out before, so you’ll have to brief them on the Restoration. One of them is military, and he would no doubt appreciate also being briefed on the Native’s combat abilities. I’m also loading a few Warrens with their transceivers disabled, just in case. I’ll also give you the droid codes for the Motavian planetary systems." With the transceivers disabled, the droids would only take verbal commands, and would be outside of Mother Brain’s control.

"If you can, hurry back. I won’t end the shift until you do, but even so, Noah is swinging back out of the system, and it will be a long haul if you leave it too late.

"Your launch window is at thirteen hundred hours, on the Manu." This was directed at Chris, and he nodded. Simonson placed his hands flat on his desk as if ready to push himself up.

"Report direct to me when you have anything."

*     *     *     *     *

Daniel sat and watched the muscles on the man’s lined face twitch and spasm as his nerves tested themselves for life after the long, cold sleep.

Jean-Paul Grey, his chart said. He was tall, about the height of a Wren, and had thin black hair. His body was slight, but still muscular; fit, taut and wiry. Daniel couldn’t do the math on his age just from the birthdate - by that Daniel himself was well over five hundred - but he looked around forty. His face was face lined deeply.

In the next bed was Alina Lewis, who looked somewhere between twenty-five and thirty. She was far shorter than Jean-Paul, but still somewhere just above average height. She was plain and unremarkable, with long, straight, but otherwise nondescript brown hair.

And that was all Daniel knew. From the nature of their mission, he could guess that one of them was ex-police, an investigator, and would suspect Jean-Paul if he had not seen his eyes once or twice when his eyelids had flickered.

His eyes were grey, and inlaid with the faint circuit tracery which told Daniel that they were borg implants. That meant he was military. The flatline on the bedside monitor also indicated he had an artificial heart, which were standard in all military cyborgs. Such hearts didn’t pulse, but were ordinary pumps that provided a continuous flow. There were dozens of advantages to this, not least of which was less wear on the mechanism.

Such hearts also regulated adrenalin, hormones, and even had tiny tanks of oxygen implanted which could supplement the body’s blood-oxygen supply and allow the user to run and fight for longer.

There was nothing at all special about Alina that Daniel could find.

He sighed and sat back down in the chair. They wouldn’t be awake for another hour, but Daniel had nothing to do.

*     *     *     *     *

Karryn Hall had also only slept a little the night before. She took her work seriously, and her work was currently important. After she had confirmed to the Commander and that technician that something seemed definitely wrong with Mother Brain’s handling of the Browren, Simonson had charged her to investigate more fully for discrepancies. She had decided to start with the intercom problem.

She had found it an hour and a half ago, got up, had a walk and a drink, came back and had spent an hour checking and confirming.

It left her with no comfort to have found all of the ins and outs, to have dissected the strange logic behind Mother Brain’s flagrant disregard for protocol. She called the Commander, and checked the data one last time while she waited for him to arrive. She spun her chair around to address him as soon as she heard the door hiss back.

"I’ve found something, sir."

The Commander came up behind her, and looked over her shoulder at her screen.

"What is it?"

"Here." She pointed to an entry on the screen. "An order, dated four-three-twenty seven fourteen, under your authorisation, granting Mother Brain security privileges regarding the intercoms, authorising her to activate them without announcing herself."

The Commander shook his head.

"No. I never sent that order through. I’m sure."

Karryn had been expecting that response. She had already found out that he hadn’t.

"I know, sir," she said, "but Mother Brain gave you a bunch of security orders regarding the Biosystems Lab. You were busy and instructed her to pass them through with your authorisation."

"It was in there?"

She shook her head.

"No, no. Look at this," she indicated another part of the screen and the Commander peered at it. "Mother Brain wrote to her own memory here," Karryn explained, "and a couple of nanoseconds afterwards as well. And she altered her own internal clock by the same amount of time."

"Why?"

"I think, I think, she forged the order…"

"That’s impossible. She’s not allowed. She wouldn’t be able to live with it."

"…which took her 1.2 nanoseconds," Karryn continued over his objection. "She then erased her memory of creating it, and adjusted her clock so there was no noticeable gap, nothing for her to get worried about. She then passed that order through as part of the batch you had authorised, believing it to be legit. That instant when she invented the order never happened. She’s a computer, sir. Her memory is infallible. She believes that implicitly. So did we."

She let that sink in for a moment before adding the last thing she had found.

"I checked her clock, too. It’s one point three seconds out. For a computer as fast as Mother Brain that’s a lot of hidden instructions."

"Gaia’s wrath," the Commander swore under his breath.

"Yes, sir."

*     *     *     *     *

Twin plumes of white fire burst into the nightscape of stars.

As the shuttle accelerated towards Motavia, Chris said something cheerful about their ETA that Daniel didn’t hear. He was deep in thought. There was something he was missing, something frustratingly close…

No. Give it up. Forcing it never works. Just let it come when it does.

He got up and went over to talk to Jean-Paul and Alina.

*     *     *     *     *

Unfortunately, the subconscious always needs a connection before it can tell you its secrets. You have to remember to come back to the problem later, once the mind beneath has worked it through.

And Daniel didn’t. Too much happened.

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